Criminal Justice Reform

Juniors and seniors enrolled in Beth Krasemann’s Good Trouble: Black Agency class participated in its 1st Annual Criminal Justice Reform Summit on March 5.

The 1st Annual Criminal Justice Reform Summit investigated the criminal justice system and its centuries-long abuse and mistreatment of Black and Brown people. Assuming the role of 17 individuals mistreated by the courts and federal and state governments, including Cissy Jones Floyd, Krasemann offered details of each identity to inquire how the criminal justice system could be changed to be equitable and fair. Prior to the summit, students were asked to submit an essay in response to the following prompt:

You are applying to be an intern for Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Institute, to work on cases to free unjustly tried and convicted ‘criminals.’ You need to write to him in the form of a persuasive letter showing him how much you know about the failures of criminal justice and why you should be hired for the summer—which gives you free food, housing, spending money, and an opportunity to enter Parchment Prison to meet individuals you will help free. In your letter, you need to demonstrate your knowledge of the history of injustices from 1865 to present and then propose alternatives/solutions/ideas on how to fix this cruel system.

With over 2.2 million imprisoned and incarceration having increased more than 500% in the last 40 years, there are more people in US jails than in any other country worldwide. Good Trouble: Black Agency examines the active, dynamic, and essential role Black Americans have played in US history. The course aims to unpack the social construct of race, the impact of systemic racism, persistence of white supremacy, and the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement. To deconstruct the reality of present-day, students take a thematic approach to their study by tracing 1865 to present through eight units: The Constitutional and Legal Basis of Segregation and Discrimination; Black Women Activists; Education and Incarceration; Labor, Jobs, and Migration; the Goals and Tactics for Strategies to achieve Racial Justice; Black Culture; American Foreign Policy and Race; and Science and Blackness.

Abby Hick is a senior from East Longmeadow, Massachusetts who enjoyed participating in the summit and class assignment. “The criminal system is unjust towards Black people and there are many ways we can help fix it,” she says. “It is very important to amend this system because Black and Brown people are systematically mistreated and there are many people who are imprisoned who should not be.” Recognizing Krasemann’s efforts and enthusiasm Abby added, “This is a very effective method of teaching that keeps everyone engaged.”